State keeps secret data on staff, resources, and capacity for individual hospitals; won’t release to the public

Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 8:08 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - As Iowa sees a record number of hospitalizations, the state will not allow local public health departments to release data from specific hospitals.

KCRG-TV9′s i9 Investigative Unit learned the state gathers and maintains data from individual hospitals on a service called the Iowa Health Alert Network. The data includes situational information, which includes data on hospital capacity and resources. But, the Iowa Department of Public Health will not allow local public health officials to release the information to the public.

The data available to the public is released on the state’s COVID-19 portal. But, it only includes hospital bed information across the entire state or a region. This data could give that information for specific hospitals and counties.

Iowa’s COVID-19 public data portal does not give any information about hospital staffing. Gov. Kim Reynolds said on Thursday that staffing shortages are causing hospitals to reach capacity rather than available bed space. This data could give that information for specific hospitals and counties.

Sarah Anne Willette, who analyzes the state’s COVID-19 data, said this data is important because it allows the public to understand the full picture in the state.

“It’s crucial for Iowans to have as much critical data about what’s going on in our state so we can understand where we are no and where we are headed,” Willette said. “Especially in the next 30 days.”

The state said that the data stored on the Iowa Health Alert Network is considered confidential because it “constitutes information concerning physical infrastructure, critical infrastructure, and emergency preparedness developed, maintained, or held by the Department for the protection of life or property”.

Randy Evans, who is the executive director for the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said this is information the public deserves to know.

“These are all details that are not violating anyone’s privacy,” Evans said. “But give the public a quick snapshot of what the conditions are like locally.”

Evans said this information could also help the public understand how serious this situation is in Iowa.

“I’m frustrated that we’re still unable to get government officials to realize that one of their biggest allies in combating coronavirus are the citizens themselves,” Evans said. “And when we keep the citizens in the dark about what the real picture is in local communities, that is doing nothing to help the public understand the seriousness of the problem.”

According to the statement on the Iowa Health Alert Network, IDPH determines which agencies or organizations can access the data based on the qualification that it is necessary for the agency or organization to have this date in order to perform response and mitigation duties. Those agencies and organizations can’t retain the data. Hospitals are required to submit this data after a mandatory reporting order was issued on April 3, 2020.

IDPH has not responded to a request for comment.

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